The 24 hour live Webcam phenomenon - Context and Critiques
There has not been a great deal of specific focus on Webcams within academic writing. Instead the concentration has been on other examples of CMC (Computer mediated communication) where women are participants or are building narratives on the Net. Academic focus has been on: Women’s ezines, Bulletin Boards, IRC Chat rooms, MUD’s and MOO’s. The majority of writing on the Webcam phenomenon has been generated by the mainstream press and has often concentrated on the more sensational aspects of this phenomenon, i.e. its capacity to attract a voyeuristic following. As a result of this the emphasis has largely been on the glimpses of bare flesh that can be found in the 24 hour live images of Net Stars such as Jennifer Ringley.
However, in an article by Kristine Blair and Pamela Takayoshi entitled “Who’s Gaze is it anyway? -Navigating the Image of Women on Line” the authors examine the complexities of how Women Online (with particular focus on Women’s Webcams) strive to maintain subject status:
“Images of women on the Web exist along a continuum from objectification to representation, and although it would be comforting to attribute all objectifying images to men, it is clear that women grapple with this continuum both consciously and unconsciously in their own production of electronic discourse. The Web phenomenon of Jennifer Ringley provides a good example of a website where these layers of meaning come together….One could theorize Ringley’s feminist status in her obvious control over the presentation of her own image online and her control of what her male viewers are able to gaze…. Still, the addressed and invoked audience for Jennifer’s site is male, a creation of an image by a woman for a man. Jennifer’s site represents a complex dialectic between woman as subject and woman as object, woman as both consumer and consumed, and woman as “performer” of femininity through her interaction with “woman” as object of desire, a positioning that privileges the presence of women Online as objects first, subjects second. As Ringley’s site suggests, women attempting to re-image themselves often have little encouragement from mass culture to produce resistance discourse and often are positioned as both complicit with and resistant to their traditional subject position as an object of desire.”
Lisa Gerrard in an article entitled “Thoughts on Computers, Gender, and the Body Electric” also posits that: “What we have been doing so far is simply carrying our culture Online.” Yet she goes on to state in relation to JenniCam that: “Yet the computer gives us new opportunities to be ourselves. Consider Jennicam…When I first read about JenniCam I thought about Simone de Beauvoir’s discussion of “female narcissism”: a woman who has been taught - as most have - that she will be valued according to her physical appearance goes out of her way to be sure she gets looked at. Jenni’s use of digital technology seemed to be the perfect illustration of female narcissism, and the technology the perfect medium for self-display. But when I logged on to JenniCam I found the site more playful than self-aggrandizing, more of a goofy experiment by a young technophile flaunting a few social conventions. Jenni’s site is a lot like the sites of the other twenty-something women I’ve been analyzing lately: friendly, witty, irreverent, and individual. I don’t know Jenni, but my guess is that technology hasn’t changed her: it’s merely given her a new tool for expressing, and publicizing herself.”
Krista Scott in her article entitled “Girls Need Modems - Cyberculture and Women’s Ezines.” acknowledges that: “...the most important factor Online for women is control of their discourse and identity…”
The object/subject debate, for and regarding women is obviously as important in analyzing images of women that are created and exist in the Online world as it is in the Offline world. The potential and the reality of voyeurism and exploitation of images of women on these Webcam sites is a striking feature in both academic writings and in the mainstream press. However, in my estimation the very presence of the Webcam women on the Net is of the most importance, offering as it does a radical new vision of women’s lived reality in both the Online and Offline worlds, 24/7.
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